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The Weekend Quiz – October 16-17, 2021

Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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    Australian labour market continues to contract

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (October 14, 2021) – Labour Force, Australia – for September 2021. The background is that the entire East Coast is in or has been in lockdown over the last few months and for the two largest labour markets (NSW and Victoria) that lockdown has been very tight. Both states are in the process of easing restrictions as vaccination rates rise. The September 2021 data reveals that the longer NSW lockdown is now impacting heavily on employment growth which is now 4.7 points below the March 2020 level. Similarly, Victoria’s employment level has fallen and is 2.1 points below the pre-pandemic level. Overall for the nation, employment fell for the second consecutive month as did the participation, the latter cushioning the rise in official unemployment. But if we take into account the participation decline, the actual unemployment rate would be 5.7 per cent rather than the official rate of 4.6 per cent. Quite a difference. The turbulence caused by the pandemic has really masked the steady decline before that and my estimates are that the true unemployment rate, taking into account the rise in hidden unemployment since August 2019, is close to 7 per cent. Again, quite a difference. The more stable ratio – the Employment-to-Population ratio plunged again in September – two months of massive declines. Last month, I predicted the situation will would worse in September – and it did. So while the unemployment rate might be relatively low by recent historical standards, the situation is dire. The lack of any significant stimulus from the federal government is telling. There is now definite evidence that further and rather massive fiscal support is required.

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      The British Chancellor cannot run short of sterling unless he chooses to do so

      It’s Wednesday and my blog-lite day or so it seems. Today I briefly discuss the proposition that the British government can run short of sterling. It cannot unless it chooses to do so. And the basis for choosing to do so would be deeply irrational and irresponsible, when judged from the perspective of advancing the well-being of the citizens. I also reflect on the vested interests in the financial markets and the way they get platforms in the media and policy making circles to advance their sectional interests (profit). And mostly, we just have a 33 minute musical feast to reflect upon.

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        The one-trick New Keynesian ponies are back in town

        I learned long ago that when you consult a surgeon the recommendation will be surgery. After about 10 or more knee operations (both legs) as a result of sporting injuries, and, then some, to undo the damage done by previous surgery, I ran into a physiotherapist who had a different take on things. He showed me ways the body can respond to different treatments and retain the capacity for high-level training and performance even with existing damage. I still run a lot and his advice was worth a lot. The point is to watch out for one-trick ponies. The analogy is not quite correct because sometimes surgeons get it right. I don’t think the same can be said for a mainstream economist, who are also one-trick ponies. If you ask a mainstream economist what to do about macroeconomic policy they recommend hiking interest rates and cutting fiscal stimulus if the CPI starts to head north, irrespective of circumstances. But the message is getting blurred by realities, especially since the GFC. More pragmatic policy makers realise that just responding in the textbook manner hasn’t provided a sustainable basis for nations to follow. In the last week, we have seen the contradiction between the one-trick ponies, who are desperate to get back into their textbook comfort zone, and those who see the data more clearly. In Britain, one part of the Bank of England, the Financial Policy Committee has indicated the way forward is going to require careful policy support for businesses because many SMEs have loaded up on debt during the pandemic and face a precarious future. In the same week, a private sector bank economist, who is also an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, called for interest rate hikes and a deeper withdrawal of fiscal support (and central bank coordination of that support) to deal with, an as yet, unclear inflation threat.

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          US labour market – recovery in a fairly languid state

          Last Friday (October 8, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2021 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 194,000 jobs in August and a 0.4 points decline in the official unemployment rate to 4.8 per cent. The combination of rising employment and falling unemployment might suggest that things are improving. But the reality is that the active labour force shrunk significantly as the participation rate fell by 0.1 points in the face of declining employment opportunities. The results suggest that the labour market recovery has slowed quite significantly from the situation mid-year. The US labour market is still 4,970 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of February 2020, which helps to explain why there are no fundamental wage pressures emerging. Further, it is clear that there has been a slight bias towards low pay jobs being added in the recovery at the expense of above-median wage jobs, particularly in the service occupations.

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            The Weekend Quiz – October 9-10, 2021 – answers and discussion

            Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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              The Weekend Quiz – October 9-10, 2021

              Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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                Australian government issues debt, buys most of it itself, and then pays itself interest into the bargain

                These are rather extraordinary times indeed. I have been trawling through the Australian public debt data which is spread across the federal sphere and the various states and territories. The official data published by the ABS is always dated (lagging a year or so) and the state-level debt data is actually quite hard to put together – their various ‘debt management’ offices do not make it easy to put a time series together. My interest is in working out the impact of the rather radical shift in usual conservative Reserve Bank of Australia behaviour when the pandemic hit. They started buying government bonds (at all levels) and now own large swathes of public debt. They have also effectively been funding the rather large deficits that the governments in Australia have been running. And interest rates and bond yields remain low after nearly 18 months of this shift.

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                  We will soon see just how ‘pragmatic’ Sunak really is

                  At present, Britain is still in the throes of a global pandemic that has devastated the nation. Last week, at Brighton, the key economic spokespersons for the TLP or the Tory-lite Party (short form, British Labour Party) told the voters of Britain why they should remain in opposition. They were sterling performances by the leader and shadow chancellor. Clarifying for all, the fact that the Party hasn’t learned much at all about their recent history. A history that has seen them lose 4 national elections in a row and in the face of one of the worst British governments in history (and that is really saying something), the TLP’s electoral fortunes continue to wallow in loss-making percentiles. Then we had the Tory version outlined by the actual chancellor on Monday. Taking advantage of the political space the TLP has given them to reinstate all the religious nonsense about the immorality of public debt and the rest of the stuff that cultists (mainstream economists) dish up.

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